Saturday, December 19, 2009

Living in Make-Believe - and Malice

Leo Casey is a man with "issues" when it comes to the New York Charter Schools Association as demonstrated by his latest hit piece. You see, Leo, the United Federation of Teachers blogger on, shows no restraint when it comes to his latest screed of a blog post.

Leo doesn't like charter schools. We already knew that. But his contempt for them is so rabid he makes up his own realities, beginning with the activities of the Charter Association, which advocates on behalf of charter schools. He's now outdone himself with this latest tirade.

Supporting Race to the Top $$ for NYS
First, the charter school community in New York has for months been urging New York State to strengthen its charter laws to make the state more competitive to be awarded a competitive Race to the Top grant from the Obama Administration. The President and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan secured $4.35 billion in discretionary funding as an incentive for states to reform their public education systems. Charter school policy is a big part of their agenda. At stake is up to $700 million in new education funding for New York.

NYCSA's focus to improve our charter law, which is central to our mission, and secure more money for New York - a win-win for charters and districts alike. Leo cannot abide this. Rather, he writes that officials of NYCSA have been lobbying officials in Washington to deny New York this money. This is false. Who are these "officials" supposedly telling him this? Leo doesn't say.

Supporting the CFE Case
Leo continues with his bogus claim that NYCSA opposed the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. I responded previously to this falsehood (here).

The New York Charter Schools Association supported the CFE case, and it filed an amicus brief to that effect. We make no apology for making the case for the court to use charter schools to raise standards and accountability in public education by removing the cap on charter schools and providing funding equity with facilities money for charters. Yet Leo continues to assert the opposite, and mendaciously distorts a statement by NYCSA president, Bill Phillips, at a Manhattan Institute forum on the CFE case. (Incidentally, Leo refers to the Institute as "right wing," which is a cheap shot and beside the point since it's the same Institute where Leo's state union leader, Richard Iannuzzi, presented at a similar kind of forum it held to discuss the 40th anniversary of the state's Taylor Law.)

Phillips made clear that "more money helps" but was not enough to guarantee improvement in public education, and that more charter schools also were necessary. He was critical of charter school opponents who wanted a go-slow approach on charters and opposed raising the charter cap in 2005 when the state was approaching the first 100 schools. His full comments at that forum are here, and the complete, undistorted paragraph from which Leo cherry-picked is here (page 24):

"I was asked what the role for charter schools was in the CFE recommendations. I'm going to answer that as a rebuttal to the criticism I always hear about charter schools. That said, it's quite funny to watch the same people who say that we ought to go slowly--when we have a hundred schools--be willing to take what is a multi-billion dollar gamble, saying 'Give us more money, and things will get better.' Do that over, and what's that, a thousand schools? I agree that more money helps, but there ought to be risk protection. A fundamental risk protection is to give the parents a place to go or to create another school that drains kids from bad schools, so that they are forced to close."

It's not exactly profound or "right-wing" to take the position that more money for education ought to be accompanied by reforms and accountability to ensure the money is well spent and produces desired results. It is risky to do otherwise. That's all Phillips was saying here. Today, that happens to be the approach espoused by the President of the United States, who is putting more money into education and demanding reforms at the same time to guard against the gamble, if you will, of throwing good money after bad. He developed this vision into a program called "Race to the Top."

Understanding the Taylor Law
Then there is Leo's hatred for the Jackson, Lewis law firm that wrote a useful book, Leveling the Playing Field (here) on the state's Taylor Law. I enjoyed Leo reprinting my endorsement of this book where I state that it "does a superb job of explaining how charter officials can maintain a healthy working environment without the intervention of a union." Charter school employees have the right to join a union, of course, and I have always respected that as long as it remains the choice for informed adults to make, rather than a mandate. At times unions have formed in charters based on the failure of schools to maintain a healthy working environment. Understanding the Taylor Law and maintaining a healthy working environment for teachers and other employees makes sense, except to Leo, who loathes this book because it provides balanced legal information on labor issues written in understandable, layman's prose.

Then there is Leo's injection of barbs about "ideology" and "right-wing" blah blah blah; ties to other organizations, blah blah blah; Wal-Mart, blah, blah blah; Richard Gilder, blah blah blah (who also supports the American Museum of Natural History, Sy Fliegel, Central Park, and bunch of other causes too numerous to list); Tom Carroll, blah, blah, blah (who also responds to Leo here); the Charter School Resource Center, blah blah blah (which helped to create, free of charge, most of the first 100 charters in New York); and so on. On these unhinged preoccupations, more bed rest might be warranted for Leo.

NYCSA is Non-partisan
The New York Charter Schools Association is non-partisan. There is not a single policy statement, press account or action by this organization (where I've worked since 2005) that displays any partisan, ideological right-wing or left-wing approach to charter schools. We work with all sides; we don't check for party labels and don't care. In fact, one of the refreshing aspects of charter schools is that it transcends ideology and is embraced and supported by both Democrats and Republicans; and liberals and conservatives alike, both in New York, in Washington, D.C., and in dozens of states throughout the country. Perhaps this upsets poor Leo, who may wish it otherwise; hence, his reckless labeling.

Why the Obsession Against Charters?
Why is Leo so obsessed with NYCSA to the point of spreading his series of canards? One can only speculate. Charters are advancing in New York and nationally. They are improving results for children in many school districts that for years failed to do so. More and more elected officials support them and are poised here and in many states to expand them. And, in a time when public funding has tightened, competition from charter schools intensifies, which may be troubling to Leo whose union represents teachers in district and charter schools that, in effect, are competing for dwindling dollars.

This union tension came alive early this year. In an unprecedented move, NYSUT and UFT came out against more charter funding and succeeded in getting the state legislature to cut the funding formula -- revealing a blatant conflict of interest. We've never let them forget this sell-out of their own charter members who pay them dues and who have since been pressuring the union not to repeat it.

Now we have Leo using his playbook to try and discredit NYCSA for doing its of job advocating for charter schools. But this union behavior makes it especially ironic and hypocritical for Leo to accuse the Charter Association--with zero real evidence--of putting "ideology" above its own school membership.

Better to Focus on Productive Things
Leo and many of his central union brethren have been kicking against the goads when it comes to charter schools by dusting off tired, irrelevant diatribe from old that rings hollow and looks more and more silly. They should instead take a lesson or two from their national leader, Randi Weingarten, who found productive ways to work with charters, even while having disagreements with them.

Those of us working in, and advocating for, public education have more productive things to do than attack each other. For starters, we should be doing what it takes to get Race to the Top money for our state. We can disagree at times, and we will; but truth should matter. With Leo Casey's latest jejune special, the truth is absent, while distortion and bile reign.

Leo can choose keep it up, spewing his shopworn acrimony. We're movin' on.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.